Yeltsin takes over Kremlin for Russia Few ministries survive swift 'state coup d'etat'

December 20, 1991|By Michael Parks | Michael Parks,Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin, moving swiftly yesterday to bring Soviet rule to an end, issued decrees abolishing the Soviet foreign and interior ministries, and taking over the Kremlin and most other central government agencies on Russian territory.

So sweeping were Mr. Yeltsin's dramatic moves to consolidate his power that only two Soviet ministries, defense and nuclear energy, apparently still remained independent of his Russian government. Even the Kremlin offices of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, as well as the presidency's bank accounts and other property, were included in Mr. Yeltsin's takeover.

The Russian president directed the Russian Foreign Ministry to assume the functions of its Soviet counterpart. He created a new Russian Ministry of Security and Internal Affairs to take over the duties of the old Soviet interior ministry and of the KGB.

Mr. Yeltsin is moving with such boldness that the influential newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta called his actions a "state coup d'etat" in a front-page commentary yesterday.

His partners in the new Commonwealth of Independent States urged caution in dismantling the old Soviet agencies before new ones were created to assume their duties.

Mr. Gorbachev, speaking on Soviet television, also warned against hastiness and excessive zeal. He said the transition from the Soviet Union to the new Commonwealth of Independent States, which is being formed by Russia and other Soviet republics, was entering the "decisive" stage and that its viability depended on an orderly, constitutional process.

"The era of the Soviet Union is drawing to an end, and the first page of the Commonwealth of Independent States is opening up," Mr. Gorbachev said. "We have to think over all this thoroughly so that it develops within a constitutional framework."

Although Mr. Gorbachev had agreed with Mr. Yeltsin earlier this week that the Soviet Union should go out of existence by Dec. 31, yielding to the new commonwealth, Mr. Yeltsin's decrees took Soviet officials by surprise. Russian representatives moved into their offices overnight to inventory property and seal files.

Mr. Yeltsin decreed that all buildings, including the Kremlin, the belongings and the assets of the Soviet president and the Inter-republican Economic Committee are to be transferred to the Russian administration, the independent Interfax news service reported. And, with characteristic boldness, Mr. Yeltsin wasted no time putting his decree into effect.

His men, dressed in civilian clothes, went from room to room counting how many computers, televisions, telephones and other valuables were in the Kremlin's official buildings, according to Andrei I. Belyayev, press spokesman for the Supreme Soviet, the Soviet legislature, which meets there.

Then Mr. Yeltsin's men let staff members on duty know that they would be evicted within days.

"When I came to work this morning, I was not sure they would let me in the gate," Mr. Belyayev said.

To make sure no one took anything before the inventory, soldiers were called in Wednesday to search everyone leaving the buildings to make sure they were not carrying any Kremlin property, Mr. Belyayev said.

"Do they think we are going to steal the Kremlin away from Moscow?" Mr. Belyayev asked. "This is great Russian boorishness," he said. "It's very offensive."

Mr. Yeltsin's pre-emptive decrees were the latest moves in a relentless campaign by the Russian president over the past month to bring a swift, sure end to "Soviet power" and to launch quickly the new commonwealth. It will be led by Russia by virtue of its size, population, wealth and military might.

While Mr. Gorbachev again was speaking yesterday of a smooth, orderly transition, even a constitutional transfer of power, Mr. Yeltsin was simply stripping away power from the old Soviet state in moves that neither Mr. Gorbachev nor anyone else could resist.

"What is happening now on the territory of a greater part of the old Soviet Union is certain a state coup committed by democratic or democratically elected authorities of the republics first of all, of Russia," Vitaly Tretyakov, editor of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, wrote in his commentary. He argued that "there is nothing terrible about the words coup d'etat" if that brings democracy.

"The empire has finally collapsed, and independent states have emerged from its ruins," he said. "Central administrative bodies have been almost totally eliminated. Those that have remained because of their indispensability for any state . . . have been BTC transferred, often without the consent of the central government or those who used to head them, to the jurisdiction of the republics.

"Finally, the official head of the former state, the president of the Soviet Union, has been effectively stripped of all power, also without his consent. All these are indisputable characteristics of a state coup."

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